County officials OK resort plans for old Wet ‘n Wild site

After the unanimous Clark County Commission vote Wednesday, Jackie Robinson hugged his brother Charles to celebrate for several minutes. Tears of joy rolled down their cheeks.

Moments earlier, commissioners approved a zoning change to make possible a $1.4 billion resort and arena project at the old Wet ‘n Wild site next to SLS Las Vegas on the north end of the Strip. The county still must hold a hearing to address traffic issues.

The zoning approval was an emotional moment for Robinson, 59, the former UNLV and NBA basketball player who has worked the past seven years on the 22,000-seat, retractable-roof arena project and boutique, nongaming resort on the 27-acre Las Vegas Boulevard site. Robinson played basketball at UNLV from 1973-78 and for the Seattle SuperSonics, Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons from 1978-82.

“I’m overwhelmed,” Robinson said outside the county commission meeting room. “This truly is history today.”

Robinson vowed that the arena-resort project would attract a work force that would be at least 35 percent minority and female. He is not seeking any public funding and noted the arena can move ahead without an NBA team, though he said he is talking with league officials about drawing a professional club to the building.

His proposed All Net Resort &Arena has drawn skeptics, but the Las Vegas businessman said a groundbreaking is set for October and U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker will attend.

To quell doubters, Robinson said $300 million in equity has been raised to move earth, and core drillings have already begun at the site. His finance team is evaluating five bank proposals for the more than $1 billion needed to build the project. Robinson said he’s looking at a repayment deal of 25 to 30 years at a fixed interest rate.

Syngon L. Hare of Los Angeles-based SL Hare Capital, hired by Robinson to put together the equity financing, declined to identify any investors.

After the meeting, Robinson said there will be at least 50 to 60 events such as concerts, motor sports, fights and kids shows such as “Disney on Ice” each year.

Robinson’s team includes Peter Zingoni of Global Spectrum, who told the commission about his company’s credentials in the arena event business but offered no proposed programming or content for the proposed arena.

The arena, which will cost $690 million and include a retractable roof, could generate enough events and revenue to repay the debt, Robinson said. The project also includes a 500-suite, 44-story boutique hotel, a 300,000-square-foot, Town Square-like promenade called Victory Plaza and a 16-screen movie theater. The proposed project sits on the same Strip site where infamous Texas developer Chris Milam once proposed an arena before failing to build an arena in Henderson.

Architect Brett Ewing of the Cuningham Group, the arena designer, said it would be the world’s first arena with a retractable roof. Industry experts say arenas typically don’t have a roof that opens because heavy equipment for lighting and sound is secured on the building ceiling.

Robinson also said his arena could be financially viable even with a new $375 million, 20,000-seat arena by MGM Resorts International and Anschutz Entertainment Group scheduled to open at the other end of the Strip behind New York-New York in 2016. That arena is also privately financed.

MGM Resorts officials said the proposed All Net arena will have no impact on their venue.

“We’re confident that our experience in operating resorts and entertainment venues both in the United States and around the globe, especially when teamed with the capabilities of our partner AEG, makes us the pre-eminent entertainment market leader,” MGM Resorts President Bill Hornbuckle said Wednesday.

The proposed MGM-AEG and Robinson arenas would pose stiff competition for UNLV’s Thomas &Mack Center, which will undergo a $47 million face-lift and rehab to improve the main concourse, add bathrooms and modernize the heating and air conditioning systems.

During Wednesday’s county hearing, about a dozen residents spoke, with a majority, including two construction union representatives, voicing their support for the proposed resort-arena.

Robert Tyre, president of the Turnberry Place Community Association, submitted a letter expressing opposition, citing issues such as increased traffic.

“Although we oppose the project as presently designed as inappropriate to this location, if the board (of county commissioners) should consider approval, we would hope that normal setbacks and buffering would be required, no outdoor activities would be allowed after midnight, and that the … traffic study would be subject to a new public hearing …,” Tyre wrote.

Robinson’s lawyer, Christopher Kaempfer, said a hearing will be scheduled to address traffic and lighting issues. Robinson’s group has already held five meetings with Turnberry and local neighbors to discuss impacts.

Robinson came to the county building with his team of professionals, plus family and friends such as former UNLV star Reggie Theus, who is head coach at California State University, Northridge.

To help finance the project, Robinson is working with the Department of Commerce Minority Business Development Agency to recruit investors and funding. Pamela Ramos, executive director of the MBDA business center in Mobile, Ala., who has been working with Robinson, said the resort-arena would be the largest minority capital project if built.

In other sports venue development, UNLV is recommending to the 11-member stadium board that the panel support a $523 million on-campus, open-air football stadium, which would be built with canopies for shading purposes.

And in Las Vegas, city officials have canceled a previously scheduled 5:30 p.m. meeting today for the partnership of Cordish Cos. and Findlay Sports &Entertainment to present the financing behind a $300 million plan for a Major Leage Soccer expansion team and stadium at Symphony Park near downtown Las Vegas.

Contact reporter Alan Snel at asnel@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5273. Follow @BicycleManSnel on Twitter.

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